DETROIT – Not much has gone right for the Detroit Tigers this season, but they have developed a potentially valuable trade chip in closer Shane Greene.
Greene is no longer just off to a hot start. The 30-year-old is having by far his best season as a pro, leading the American League with 20 saves after another scoreless inning Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals.
Why Greene is so valuable
Relief pitchers don't always yield high-level prospects in deadline trades, but Greene has a chance to make a dent in the Tigers' rebuild, if general manager Al Avila plays his cards right.
Not only does Greene lead the AL in saves, he's the seventh most valuable relief pitcher in baseball with a 1.2 WAR. Five of the six relievers ahead of Greene are on teams that currently hold playoff spots or are within 4.5 games of a wildcard spot, so they likely won't be on the market.
Only Ken Giles has a higher WAR as a reliever for a non-contending team, and he was just placed on the injured list with elbow issues.
In other words, there's a chance Greene will be the No. 1 relief pitcher on the market if he continues to dominate the ninth inning.
His season isn't just built on saves -- Greene has been downright dominant. In 27 innings, Greene has whiffed 29 batters while allowing only 23 to reach base. His strikeout rate is high and his home run and walk rates are low.
On a game-by-game basis, no pitcher has been more consistent than Greene. He's appeared in 27 games, pitching exactly one inning in each. He's held opponents scoreless in 24 of those outings and only allowed two earned runs once in mid-April.
Greene has pitched 10 1-2-3 innings, allowed one base runner 12 times and two base runners four times. Only once has he allowed more than two runners to reach base, and that should have been a scoreless inning if not for a pair of defensive miscues by the infield.
In essence, Greene has had 10 perfect outings, 22 non-stressful outings and 24 good outings in 27 appearances. His worst inning was the fault of bad infield defense.
Whoever acquires Greene will also have him under team control for 2020, which means he's not just a three-month rental. That adds immense value when it comes to deadline deals.
Greene is a valuable trade chip, and there are several contenders that either need a closer or a late reliever. Here's a look at five deals the Tigers could try to pull off.
1. Boston Red Sox
Trade: Shane Greene for Michael Chavis
Who could better for Avila to talk trade with than his old boss Dave Dombrowski, who once again has a star-studded roster with a weak bullpen?
Dombrowski has followed the same mold in Boston that nearly won him a World Series in Detroit, except this time, he's coming off a championship.
The Red Sox have a lineup loaded with power, a strong starting rotation, a struggling bullpen and no top 100 prospects. It worked last season, but nearly midway through 2019, the Red Sox are in third place and 7.5 games behind the first-place New York Yankees.
Dombrowski thought he had two potential closers in Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes, but neither has been particularly reliable in that role. Brasier started the season in the ninth inning but blew three early saves and has been better as a setup man. Barnes has electric stuff, but he alarming walk rate from 2018 has returned recently, and he's already blown four saves.
With Craig Kimbrel joining the Chicago Cubs, there's a hole to fill in the ninth inning, and assuming the Red Sox don't want to pull Brandon Workman out of his setup role, where he's been extremely valuable, a trade for someone as consistent as Greene would be perfect.
Boston has plenty of solid prospects just outside the top 100, but Avila could really hit a home run by landing Michael Chavis. The 23-year-old was the top prospect in the organization before getting called up early this season and has played first, second and third base at the MLB level.
Overall, Chavis' numbers look fine for a rookie. He's batting .249 with a .790 OPS and 10 home runs. Even his walk rate is advanced for his age, drawing 21 walks in 48 games.
Now is the time to buy low on Chavis, though, because he's been dreadful for nearly a full month.
Since May 17, Chavis has started 23 games, batting .208 with very little power and 42 strikeouts. His .620 OPS over that span has dropped his season-long mark more than 200 points in a month.
The Tigers could give Chavis time to work through his struggles without worrying about falling out of a playoff race. He posted a .999 OPS over his first 21 games with 14 walks, seven home runs and two stolen bases, so there's potential for Chavis to be a middle-of-the-order bat.
If the Red Sox's entire infield gets healthy, Chavis will likely be the odd man out due to his major slump. Avila should see if he can capitalize on the opportunity.
2. Texas Rangers
Trade: Shane Greene for Leody Taveras and Taylor Hearn
It's a surprise that the Texas Rangers currently hold one of the AL's wildcard spots, and it's an even bigger surprise considering how bad their original closer has been.
Jose Leclerc began the 2019 season in the ninth inning for the Rangers, but he's been a complete disaster so far, allowing 17 earned runs in 29 innings. He's striking out plenty of hitters, but his walk rate and ERA have cost him the closer's role.
Shawn Kelley is doing a nice job filling in for Leclerc, but the Rangers don't have any other reliable arms in the bullpen. As a rising team in the heart of a playoff race, they're a perfect candidate to trade for Greene.
Texas doesn't have many high-end hitters in the farm system, but Leody Taveras would be a great player to add to Detroit's outfield mix. As the No. 6 prospect in the organization, Taveras is having a strong season in High-A. He's batting .305 with a .378 OBP and a manageable strikeout rate.
Taveras has an elite combination of speed and on-base ability, already stealing 19 bases in 62 games. His .771 OPS shows a lack of home run power, but he's only 20 years old and could certainly improve in the extra-base hit department.
Most importantly, Taveras is an elite defensive outfielder because of his speed and athleticism. He's also got a strong throwing arm, which is something the Tigers desperately lack at the MLB level.
Taylor Hearn has only made four starts in Triple-A this season, but he's an intriguing prospect because of his mid-90s fastball from the left side. Hearn is the perfect example of a young pitcher with great stuff but no control, and he's 24 years old, so he needs to figure it out soon.
The Tigers could take a chance on Hearn because pitching at the Triple-A level has been a major weakness. He's shown good strikeout potential, so if the walks come under control, Hearn could be a savvy pickup.
3. Atlanta Braves
Trade: Shane Greene for Drew Waters
An Atlanta Braves farm system that once rivaled that of the San Diego Padres has taken a hit this season, but not because of performance. The Braves' rebuild has ended, and many of those top prospects are now staples on the MLB roster.
Mike Soroka has been incredible. Max Fried and Touki Toussaint have been solid. Ronald Acuna, Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies are three of the top hitters in the lineup.
But Atlanta still has plenty of talent in the minor leagues, and the Tigers should try to capitalize on the fact that the Braves are finally in win-now mode.
The starting outfield is set in stone for the Braves, as Acuna should be in center field for the next decade, Riley has burst onto the scene a left fielder and Nick Markakis is still rock solid in right. The Braves also have the No. 4 outfield prospect in baseball, Christian Pache, tearing up Double-A.
That could open the door for the Tigers to pursue Atlanta's No. 5 prospect, Drew Waters, who was drafted in the second round two years ago and has done nothing but hit since.
Waters is the No. 61 overall prospect in baseball, so this would certainly be a home run deal for Avila to pull off. But the Braves desperately need a closer after missing out on Kimbrel.
Atlanta is among the MLB leaders in blown saves this season, and closer Luke Jackson already has five blown saves in 14 attempts. His overall numbers aren't bad, but Jackson has been extremely shaky in the ninth inning.
Waters is a compelling power-speed prospect who's still only 20 years old. This season he's batting .327 with a .508 slugging percentage and .880 OPS in Double-A.
Plate discipline is an issue for Waters, who has struck out 77 times in 63 games and drawn only 16 walks. He makes up for it in the extra-base hit department though, already smacking 21 doubles, eight triples and three home runs.
That double and triple profile would translate perfectly to Comerica Park, even if Waters doesn't develop into a 20-homer player.
Waters also has good speed and is an excellent defensive outfielder. He checks all the boxes in terms of what the Tigers should be looking for in the outfield.
4. New York Mets
Trade: Shane Greene for Ronny Mauricio
Unlike the three teams listed above, the New York Mets don't need a closer. They have Edwin Diaz, one of the best relief pitchers in the game, locking down the ninth inning.
Getting to Diaz has been another story. The Mets are tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates atop MLB in blown saves, already with 14 on the season. Other than Diaz and Seth Lugo, the bullpen has been a complete disaster.
The Mets are still only 4.5 games out of a wildcard spot and 5.5 games out of first place in the National League East Divsion. They have a very strong starting rotation and offense, so Greene could be one of their top targets in the coming weeks.
The Mets have four infielders atop their prospect rankings, and none of them are having strong offensive seasons. Avila might be able to target any of those guys if New York is still in the playoff race.
It's unlikely the Mets would move top prospect Andres Giminez in a deal for Greene, but with three shortstops among their top four prospects, 18-year-old Ronny Mauricio could be an option.
Mauricio signed with the Mets in 2017 and has risen into the top 100 prospects in baseball. He's already a solid fielder, but his bat is his calling card, and that's just what the Tigers need.
Single-A has been a struggle for Mauricio this season. Despite hitting .286, he hasn't shown any power and the walk rate is low. His .709 OPS is largely a result of 15 extra-base hits and only two home runs through 55 games.
The Tigers have time to wait on an 18-year-old to grow into his power, though, and Mauricio would be a much-needed infield prospect who can hit. He's still several years away from being MLB ready, but that's the case with many of Detroit's offensive prospects.
5. San Diego Padres
Trade: Shane Greene for Xavier Edwards and Edward Olivares
San Diego has the best farm system in baseball, with 10 players among the league's top 100 prospects and several others knocking on the door.
Only four of those top 100 prospects are position players, though, and that's really what the Tigers need at the deadline.
Fernando Tatis and Luis Urias are both off the table. Josh Naylor has already earned a call up to the MLB level and probably wouldn't be moved for a relief pitcher.
The Tigers could certainly target No. 98 overall prospect Xavier Edwards, a 19-year-old shortstop who's raking at Single-A.
San Diego has a great closer in Kirby Yates, who leads baseball with 23 saves and has his ERA and WHIP both below 1.00. It's been a rough year for San Diego setup men, though, as Craig Stammen and Adam Warren both have negative WARs and Trey Wingenter has been bad since a stint on the injured list.
For an organization used to dealing its own relievers at the deadline, the Padres could be in the market to acquire one this season, especially after calling up the likes of Tatis, Naylor, Chris Paddack and Cal Quantrill, and signing Manny Machado in the offseason. The rebuild is clearly over in San Diego.
Edwards would be a great get for the Tigers, especially since both middle infield positions appear to be blocked for the Padres in the foreseeable future. Tatis is the No. 1 prospect in baseball and Urias looks like the best hitter in the minor leagues, so Edwards could become available in a trade.
The teenager has very little power, but he rarely strikes out and is sporting a lofty .398 OBP. Edwards has 78 hits and 21 walks in 57 games, also swiping 14 bases. At best, he could turn into an MLB leadoff hitter. If not, he could be a solid on-base option in the bottom third of a lineup.
Edward Olivares is a little-known prospect because he's 23 years old and ranked No. 20 in the Padres' system. But he's quietly having a solid year in Double-A, with 15 doubles, eight home runs and 14 stolen bases in 57 games.
Olivares has a .772 OPS and reasonably good plate discipline to go with his extra-base pop. There are four outfielders ranked ahead of him in San Diego's system, but he could be one of the top minor league hitters in Detroit.